Since the first conference, the alliance has adopted the practice of “talking circles” from Native American ceremonies.

“We develop questions, break up into small groups and make sure each person gets a chance to talk,” explained Diana Dalbotten, who is on the alliance conference planning committee and is a diversity director at the University of Minnesota. “We have developed this to make our conference more participatory and to respect the idea that everyone is there to teach and everyone is there to learn.”

Conference attendees were also invited on several diverse field-trip opportunities related to different aspects of the geosciences, including a trip to the Superstition Mountains, the Heard Museum and Biosphere 2.

On the last night of the conference, attendees were asked to participate in a “science pop-up night” where everyone could spend three minutes talking about their projects and research. This event was so popular that even though it was the last day of the conference, it went well into the night. 

“It’s important for ASU to host events that focus on local communities in Arizona and especially indigenous communities in the Southwest,” said Garcia. “Giving teachers, researchers, professors and students the opportunity to share knowledge and connection to the land shows that ASU embraces diversity.” 

The conference organizers, including Semken and Garcia, hope that participants will seek more collaboration with each other in the future as a result of this conference. Garcia, for example, is working with two other researchers he met through the alliance on a National Science Foundation proposal to study the geology of caves in the Caribbean.

They also hope to continue to offer travel awards to the conference.

“Some of us come from places that are not financially stable, making conferences like this out of reach,” said Garcia. “But thanks to sponsors like the National Science Foundation, the alliance is able to provide the opportunity to those who otherwise would not be able to go.”

Previous conferences were held in the northern Midwest, the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

“It was an honor for ASU to host this most recent conference in Phoenix and Tempe,” said Semken. “I think that the alliance members enjoyed their visit to our campus and their time in the warm desert sun.”

Semken is grateful for the support given to this endeavor by many colleagues in the School of Earth and Space Exploration; the ASU President's Special Advisor for American Indian Initiatives Bryan Brayboy; ASU Vice President for Tribal Relations Jacob Moore and his staff; and to ASU alumna (and a former graduate student of Semken’s) Nievita Bueno Watts, who is the co-director of the Geoscience Alliance.

The Geoscience Alliance is a national alliance of individuals committed to broadening participation of Native Americans in the geosciences. Its members are tribal colleges, universities, research centers, Native elders and community members, students and educators.

The alliance’s goals include creating new collaborations in support of geoscience education for Native American students, establishing a new research agenda aimed at closing gaps in our knowledge on barriers and best practices related to Native American participation in the geosciences, increasing participation by Native Americans in setting the national research agenda on issues in the geosciences, providing a forum to communicate educational opportunities for Native American students in geoscience programs, and understanding and respecting indigenous traditional knowledge.

The Geoscience Alliance conferences are made possible through the generous and ongoing support of the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration